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Capitol Reef, Bryce Canyon And Zion Are Starting To Reopen: What's Next For Utah's National Parks

A jagged series of red and white cliffs runs toward the horizon.
David Fuchs
Capitol Reef National Park, pictured above, partially reopened on Tuesday — the first national park to do so in the state. ";

ST. GEORGE — When Bryce Canyon National Park opened Wednesday morning, there were cars waiting outside the gate.It was the first time the park had welcomed the public — in any capacity — in nearly a month. And a steady stream of visitors continued throughout the day, according to Bryce Canyon spokesperson Peter Densmore.

But turnout was lower than usual and that’s exactly what the park was hoping to see on the first day of its phased reopening, said Densmore.

While the main road, viewpoints and most trails within the park’s iconic amphitheater are all open, other facilities — like campgrounds, the visitor center, and most bathrooms — remain closed, as are the park’s backcountry zones.

How soon those areas and services will be reintroduced depends on safety, visitor behavior and guidance from local, state and federal partners.

The best thing for visitors to do is monitor each park’s website for updates, Densmore said.

“An informed visitor is going to be the safest possible visitor,” he said. “Just knowing what to expect when they come to the park so that they are prepared to have a safe visit here is really what we would love to see.”

Bryce Canyon is not the only national park in Utah making these kinds of assessments.

While Arches and Canyonlands National Parks are still closed, Zion National Park will begin to readmit visitors on May 13. And Capitol Reef partially reopened on Tuesday — the first national park to do so in the state.

The decision to reopen each park is a balancing act.

Although parks offer visitors opportunities for recreation and relief, they can also pose public health risks if they are not thoughtfully reopened, said Vanessa Lacayo, a spokesperson with the National Park Service currently providing communications support to Zion.

Zion National Park’s leadership is still determining the specifics of how it will reopen next Wednesday. Visitors should expect certain sections of the park to be closed, as well as increased messaging about social distancing on social media and on-the-ground signage.

“We want to make sure we’re setting expectations up front with folks: It’s not going to be the same park experience that they may have been used to before COVID,” Lacayo said.

Susan Fritzke, the superintendent at Capitol Reef National Park, echoed that sentiment.

“We’re trying to encourage visitation but not the kinds of numbers that we normally have this time of year, ” Fritzke said. 

She added that the park’s remote campgrounds and backcountry areas are now open. But all hiking trails off State Route 24 and the scenic drive, the two main roads in the park, are still off-limits.

David Fuchs is a Report for America corps member who reports from KUER's Southwest Bureau in St. George. Follow David on Twitter @davidmfuchs.

David is a reporter and producer working on Sent Away, an investigative podcast series from KUER, The Salt Lake Tribune and APM Reports.
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